Millen, Tania Articles

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Dressage is far more challenging than you think it is. On September 23, 2022, the Canadian Eventing Development Foundation hosted a one-day dressage symposium with Peter Gray at Alborak Stable, west of Calgary, Alberta.

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This complex memoir recounts Johnston’s internal tussles and deep reflection on finding meaning in the latter part of life. After splitting with her long-term partner, leaving her job of 16 years, and losing family relevance, Johnston — a 60-year-old woman from Vancouver Island, BC — goes to Africa on horseback safari. Her writing invites readers to question their limiting beliefs and internal barriers while navigating life’s challenges and opportunities. Nuanced storytelling and Johnston’s willingness to share her raw feelings while hoping for “an opening in the dark forest” of her life drew me in.

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Fundamental Communications for Training, Riding, and Caring for Your Horse - “A willing servant is still a servant,” says Sharon Wilsie in her introduction to Essential Horse Speak. It’s the premise which started Wilsie’s lifelong journey of understanding how horses communicate. She explains what she’s learned to date in her new book, Essential Horse Speak.

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Are you a midlife novice horsewoman wondering about the ins and outs of having a horse? If so, this book can help. It’s clearly designed to answer questions for women who are finally living their dreams of riding or owning a horse — whether they’re new to the horse world or returning after a long absence.

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There are no shortcuts - “Riding is like digging a swimming pool with a spoon,” says John Madden. “It’s really hard work and takes a long time.” On July 6, 2022, the Canadian Sport Horse Association (CSHA) hosted The Madden Method Symposium at Eventyre Farms, southwest of Calgary, Alberta. “This was a one-off event,” says Marie MacAuley, the symposium chair. “It will never happen again.”

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Representing Canada at the Olympic Games is the Holy Grail for many riders, but not every rider has the good fortune to get there. Those who represent Canada at the Games all have very different stories about how they qualified, the experiences they had, and the exceptional horses they were fortunate to ride. Canada’s top-placed three-day event riders from the 1976 through 2008 Olympic Games have had many years to reflect on their Olympic experiences and fortunately, five of those determined men and women were happy to share some of their life lessons, anecdotes, and wisdom with those who want to follow in their hoofprints. These are their stories.

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An Explainer - “In sport horses, we see a lot of injuries,” says Dr. Sarah Malenchak, who owns Westhills Equine Veterinary Services in Stony Plain, Alberta. “But we want the horses feeling as good as possible as soon as possible so they can go back into work. Plus, we want them to heal properly, so they don’t reinjure themselves,” she says.

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Working and Playing Together - Operating family farms and ranches can be challenging, but according to these three Canadian families, there are plenty of benefits, too.

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Most horses aren’t simply pasture pets — they provide some sort of active service to their owners. But many horses are not totally sound, and most horse sports don’t allow lame horses to compete. Lameness generally means a horse is in pain; hence, it’s not acceptable to ride lame horses. So, what can owners and riders do? Gerard Laverty says many horses that are less than 100 percent sound are living comfortable lives as “serviceably sound” partners. “It’s most horses that have saddles on,” he says. Laverty teaches the farrier science program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, British Columbia and has his own farrier business.

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The 21st Century Rider - Many Canadian riders are throwing their leg over horses well beyond the age when others are pursuing more sedentary activities. For example, about 19 percent of Alberta Equestrian Federation members were over the age of 56 from 2015 to 2018. In British Columbia, approximately 19 percent of active Horse Council BC members were over age 60 in 2018. Meanwhile, in Quebec last year, about 12 percent of Cheval Quebec members were age 60 and over. Nationally, approximately 22 percent of Equestrian Canada sport licence holders were older than 50 in 2018, and 10 percent were older than 60.

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Polocrosse players in Alberta and Saskatchewan are gearing up for a full season of competition in 2022. “We’ve got an active group here. Last weekend, we had 10 people playing 10 horses,” says Gayle Smith, the secretary of Bridge City Polocrosse Association (BCPA) near Saskatoon. She says there are also eight kids learning the game and “they’re really doing well with their little cow horses.”

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Satisfying the horse-specific needs of stallions is imperative for their mental and physical health. However, it can be challenging to provide living arrangements where stallions aren’t just surviving — but thriving. Kelly Brook Allen is one stallion owner who is adamant about her horse’s welfare. “He gets to live a normal life,” she says. Allen owns Canoa Farms in Merritt, British Columbia with her husband, Ron Stolp.

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Sooner or later, most horse owners have the unfortunate experience of dealing with an injured horse. It’s common sense to have a veterinarian assess what’s wrong as soon as your horse becomes injured, but a vet will also help create a rehabilitation plan, advise how long the recovery period will be, and provide post-recovery expectations.

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Every spring, mare owners get excited about choosing a stallion for their mare, but many decisions need to be made before selecting the stud and breeding the mare. “Breeding is not for the faint of heart,” says Lisa Longtin. She owns Merrington Warmbloods in Kindersley, Saskatchewan and has been breeding warmblood horses for the dressage and hunter rings for 25 years. “When things go well, it’s great. But there are so many things that can go wrong.”

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Holidays on Horseback - Sven, the Haflinger pack pony, jerked his head up and snorted. I looked uphill towards our camp and caught a humpy flash of beige ducking behind a stunted fir tree. Grizzly, I thought. I was hand-grazing Sven and my paint mare, Jewel, on a frosty July morning in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia during a solo pack trip. When Sven jerked his head up again, a beige grizzly bear shambled downhill towards us. Just 20 metres uphill from the first bear, a second bear rose up on its hind legs out of the brush before dropping down onto all fours and following the frontrunner. As the two bears lumbered towards us, Sven danced around on his lead line while Jewel kept grazing, and my heart beat a little quicker. As I considered what to do, a third bear trundled out of the trees and followed the first two. They were all grizzlies, all full size, and all coming straight at us. I started to sweat.

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Are They Good, Bad, or a Bit of Both? Colt starting competitions are wildly popular with audiences, imbuing a sense of wonder at what trainers can do with previously unhandled three-year-old horses (colts) in just a few hours. They’re judged events, where each trainer is paired with an unbroke horse and has just a few hours to start it under saddle. While the trainers work with their horses, they explain their training methods to the audience. On the third and final day of the competition, the trainers show off their horse’s skills over an obstacle course. The young horses are started by top-notch trainers, the spectators are entertained, and the trainers win prizes and kudos for their skills. So, what’s not to like?

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Sharing Costs, Spreading Risks - Racehorse syndicates have been around for a long time, but it’s only in the last 20 years that sport horse syndicates have become more common. In the horse world, a syndicate is generally a group of people who pool their funds to invest in a horse together and share the horse’s annual costs. Everyone who “buys in” is a shareholder and owns a portion of the horse for a set period of time, or until the horse is resyndicated or sold.

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How Teamwork Makes the Dream Work - High performance riders often attribute their success to a team of committed supporters and professionals who help them achieve their best while keeping their horse’s best interest at heart. But successful teams aren’t simply a collection of farriers, grooms, owners, saddle fitters, sponsors, sports psychologists, and veterinarians. According to three top-level Canadian riders — amateur jumper rider Stephanie Valdes, 2020 Paralympian dressage rider Winona Hartvikson, and veteran three-day eventing Olympian Kyle Carter — there’s a lot more to it.

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A Burgeoning Business - In the past eight years, stand-alone equine rehabilitation and conditioning centres that help horses return to health or greater fitness have been opening their doors in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Depending on the business owners’ interests, skills, and client base each operation provides a unique suite of therapy modalities such as treadmills, pools, exercisers, saltwater baths, and solariums. Additional services and treatments such as bodywork, nebulizers, and product sales are also common.

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Top notch grooms are crucial to the success of upper level riders, doing everything from providing day-to-day care for hundred thousand dollar horse-flesh, to ensuring riders are on time for their horse show classes. Rarely in the limelight, grooms are the essential but unsung heroes of horse sport - the behind-the-scenes pit crew that make the magic happen for well-known riders.

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